Minneapolis-based “shadow pop” duo Fraea (a stylized take on Freyja, mythological Norse goddess of pretty much everything—love, sex, beauty, fertility, war, death, and seiðr, a type of shamanistic sorcery—who, among other things, rode a chariot pulled by two cats) meet me at the conservatory section of the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. I find frontwoman Jessie Daley, pretty and purple-haired, near the entrance, and she’s casual and smiley right off the bat. We hug. Drew’s somewhere else, she tells me, nerding out over the exotic milieu—the “amazing azaleas” and “cheery chrysanthemums”, so says Como’s website. Indeed, we find Drew Preiner in the Palm Dome, nerding out over the orchid nook. He’s tall but not imposing, friendly, handsome. We make our way to Tropical Encounters. Here, we find kapok trees, strangler fig, the odd fluorescent bird. Somewhere, I’m told, there’s a free-roaming sloth named Chloe.
“We’ve been working together, writing, for about three years,” Preiner tells me, under the eave of a peach palm.
The music of Fraea covers pretty much everything—love, sex, beauty, fertility, war, death, maybe seiðr. Their debut EP Bend Your Bones opens with “Trouble,” a sexy, languid baby-making jam that sets an appropriate tone: slow-motion beats, swollen hooks, subdued and restrained, opening up where it needs to on the wave of anthemic synths. This gives way to power single “Criminal,” which has been boomeranging around the blogosphere for months. It’s a hell of a song, a swing for the fences, controlled and polished, driven by Daley’s imploring confessional: Keep holding on / Keep holding on. This is the “Minneapolis sound” having grown up on the Internet.
“I’d been super lonely for a [creative] partner,” Daley says, “and I think Drew had been super lonely for a partner, too, just finding the right blend. And for both of us, it was our first attempt at finding that, and it just worked really well right from the first time we got together.” She pauses. “I mean, it wasn’t quite that magical. There were some pretty big reject songs.”
Drew interjects: “There were some stumbles.”
“A lot of it was just finding our own heartbeat,” Daley says.
It’s weird being here, flanked by Como Zoo and its mopey inmates. Given the recent trending news (Cincinnati’s Gorilla World, seventeen-year-old silverback, clumsy kid, close-range assault rifle), I imagine Como’s own gorillas, majestic and theophanous creatures as they are, mitochondrial DNA just 10.3% different than our own, eyes all power and soul, hunched and wilting in their poured stucco habitat, gazing glumly and with chemically subdued rage (read: Haldol, Valium, Klonopin, Zoloft, Paxil, Xanax, Buspar, Prozac, Ativan, Versed, Mellaril, and/or Beta-Blockers) as little American kids pound gleefully on their shatter-proof partition. The need for zoos, I suppose, watching a toddler pour what looks like a Slurpee into what looks like a rare plant, is to teach. But what and how effectively they teach is debatable.
Back to the music: it echoes a list of presumed influences—tinny R&B, smoked-out soul, Air at their least contrived, Blondie, Serge Gainsbourg remixed by Ogm, harkening L.A. street pop (the Puro Instincts, the Nite and Johnny Jewels), cool kid pill parties under a cover of darkness. That Bend Your Bones reveals itself as polished pop a few seconds in is no surprise, but it’s polished pop with a serrated edge. “Sove,” the final track on Bones, is a gauzy instrumental that plays like Nine Inch Nails at their most cinematic and crestfallen.
“We dislike a lot of the same stuff,” Preiner says, “and we like a lot of the same stuff. Then there’s those separate things out there…”
“…in terms of, like, we should cover this Laurie Anderson song,” Daley says.
“…and I’m, like, who’s Laurie Anderson?”
Elaborating on the musical influence vein, Daley mentions Fever Ray (“That dark, visceral electronic movement spoke to me.”), Metric, “a PJ Harvey phase,” Modest Mouse, “back in the day, like, in seventh grade, I was bumping Too Short and Shy and Jodeci.”
Daley continues: “My dad was, like, what the heck? I keep giving you access to my BMG account and this is what happens?”
Preiner says, “I’m continually blown away by new music. Every Friday, every new music Friday.”
Daley: “Drew is a true music lover. He knows music inside and out. He is music.” And then, addressing Preiner: “You really have a big heart for it.”
It’s in these tender, finish-each-other’s-sentences-type moments that the gravity of Fraea’s chemistry is really felt.
“It’s such a powerful, amazing time for music right now,” Preiner says.
We make our way outside—breezy, spring, goose down sky—to the Enchanted Garden, its moat seasonably drained. It is an amazing time for music, I’m thinking. However excessive or seemingly disposable our exposure to stuff becomes, new and creative music from all corners and economic sectors of the world has never been more accessible. A black butterfly, omen of death in certain cultures, lands on a papery flower.
“It is a challenge to not just be a flash in the pan,” Preiner says. “You used to hear a song on the radio, you’d buy a CD. Put it in, you’d listen to it.”
“You’d interact with it,” Daley says. “You’re touching it, opening it, smelling it. I don’t know.”
“Scratch-and-sniff,” Preiner says.
He continues: “It’s a challenge, but there’s a balance that we’ll need to land on soon.”
Speaking of tangible albums, I ask about firsts.
Daley: “I remember the first tape I interacted with. It was my parents’ Mike + The Mechanics. I came up with a dance for it.”
Daley continues: “I remember the first CD, and it was Mariah Carey’s Vision of Love. I made pretend music videos, had every song memorized.”
Preiner: “My tape was Kris Kross. I remember that, in fourth grade. The CD was Boyz II Men II.”
We laugh, collectively, but there’s something bittersweet to it. Ours is one of the last generations to share these memories—going to the mall, physically entering the Musiclands and Sam Goodys, buying a CD, etcetera. Those days are gone, for better or worse.
“As an artist these days,” Preiner says, “you have to challenge yourself regularly to make new things and do things a different way. You gotta keep it fresh. Everything’s always changing and evolving.”
Those words seem to echo, here in this enchanted garden: changing, evolving. Rapidly, I’m thinking. Far, far too rapidly.